Guardian Angels – Book Review

the_guardian_angels_rohit_goreA few days back I was surprised to find a mail from Rohit Gore asking me if I would be interested in reviewing his latest novel. I had no idea how to react. I do not read much of Indian authors because of Chetan-o-phobia. I know I am generalizing here and that is why I read Anita Desai’s ‘The village by the sea’ and ‘Fire on the mountain’ and loved both the books. I also read ‘The blue bedspread’ by Raj Kamal Jha and heaved a sigh of relief that there are authors who can help me get over my phobia.

As soon as I got Rohit’s mail, I checked the reviews of his book on Flipkart and Goodreads. The reviews were majorly positive and so I decided to give it a go. There were reasons that were trying to pull me the other way but I will come to them later.

The book was a surprise. On the surface it looks like a regular story of rich boy meets poor girl and the clashes and the sparks that follow but it is a much deeper study of their relationship. Aditya Mehta and Radha Deodhar meet accidentally when they are in school. Radha saves Adi that day and thus begins their turbulent and absorbing journey. The book takes us through their relationship for the next two decades. Aditya is a son of very wealthy businessman and lives in a 40-story mansion (sounds very familiar?) while Radha is the daughter of a middle class man with strong principles and does not have a very good opinion about the Mehta empire headed by Adi’s parents.

I found the book very engrossing. In fact it is one of the books where I did not notice the passage of time. It is fast paced and there is no stagnation in any part of it. Not only Adi and Radha’s characters but the characters of their parents, Heena, Vedant and Sudha Bapat are also well etched. The set up is believable and well-defined. There is something very grounded about the book. You relate to the upheavals and the life turning events the protagonists go through.

Having said that I was not able to comprehend Aditya’s parents. They are sensible, believe in charity and still live in a 40-story monstrosity. But then we have a real life example of that, don’t we? Also, I was a bit surprised when Radha’s mother insist that she goes to Scotland on a holiday with Adi. I have doubts that this could happen in an Indian middle class family.

Coming back to the reasons that were pulling me the other way. I did not like the blurb at the back. It seemed like a desperate attempt by the publication house to sell it by portraying it as a run-of-the-mill love story which it is not. It has layers, it is deep and it is much more than a college romance. I would have second thoughts about buying the book after reading it. I am not a fan of the cover either. And so, I am glad that Rohit sent me a copy.

Overall, an engaging book and worth reading. I hope someone makes it into a movie. It will be a Bollywood movie I would love to watch if there are no item numbers in it.

Rating – 4/5

Just Married Please Excuse

To be honest, enjoying reading modern Indian writers is a bit of a rarity for me. Whisking aside books that have made a big impact worldwide like The God of Small Things, Interpreter of Maladies, Midnight’s Children, The Inheritance of Loss to name a few, I do not enjoy picking up an Indian author. Maybe the fact that they are all too mushy and are mostly about the various shades of love and are largely one dimensional has to do something with it. I have never read Chetan Bhagat and I took great offence when during a brainless game which our office HR made us play, a girl guessed my favourite author to be the said gentleman. I almost burnt her with my gaze. Now before you jump on me to be anti-Indian writers, let me add that irrespective of the country to which it belongs, the story is the real hero of a book. And India is such a vast country that it can never be complicated to find a story that touches you immensely. I am still on this quest and opening up to Indian novels with great caution.

Being utterly romantic myself, I am not against love stories but our cinema churns and throws out a substantial amount of them at us every month. So when it comes to reading a book, I would really not appreciate a nauseating Déjà Vu. In short, I would prefer Life of Pi over Five Point Someone, I would prefer something which gives me a different perspective, something which shows me a world I have not seen before. I did find The Mine by Arnab Ray quite chilling at places and Amish’s first two installations of the Shiva Trilogy decent enough but these were rare cases and not the norm.

So, I picked up Just Married Please Excuse with tonnes of apprehensions and was very confident that I would not be able to reach the conclusion. The story of this book is something a lot of us have experienced and lived. It is about a couple working for a private firm who fall in love despite their opposite approach towards life and family and how they cope with the differences. Maybe because I was not having very high expectations from the book, I was able to enjoy it. Despite having a very thin story-line the book was utterly humorous. Yashodhara Lal has a writing style which will make you smile throughout the book. It is not one of those books that rattle your brain but all it does is tickle you and that I believe was the sole purpose of the writer. As long as you do not compare, you will be pretty much content.

There are incidences like the one where the couple try to buy a piece of land near Bangalore, their ordeal with the maids and their sessions with a counsellor which will make you chuckle. It is difficult not to relate to the book because it reminds us of all such silly and funny incidences of our own life. Even when the writer is not narrating a story which is path-breaking, it does serve a humorous perspective to the everyday life of an urban couple. It might be something not worth mentioning, but I found that the book had a magnanimous usage of Hindi at a lot of places. I feel that this limits your readers. Pick up this book if you like reading light humorous books over a cup of coffee. It is a breeze. It has given me courage to include the untouched galaxy of Indian authors in my Books Universe.

Every time I see a blogger go ahead and publish his/her book, it gives me another boost to finish my own book which I am writing on and off from the last three years. Just Married Please Excuse gave it a final push. I finished the fifth draft of my novel which looked alarmingly mummified since the last time I had touched it. Not to mention that I will be entering the untouched galaxy myself about which I have been so critical. Scary.

[image from here]

Night train to Lisbon

Can God create a stone He couldn’t lift? If not, then he isn’t almighty; if yes, He isn’t either, for now there is a stone He cannot lift.

This book was like poetry. Sentences flew out of the book like lyrics of an old forgotten song and I secretly wished for nttl1the book to never end. Translations usually don’t work for me. Reading “Choker Bali” in English was a disaster. Night Train to Lisbon was written in German initially and that was reason enough for me to be apprehensive. But am I glad that I picked it up! It will undoubtedly remain one of the best books I have read. If you have read a few of my previous posts and have been thinking that why the hell have I turned so philosophical, then the reason is this book.

Raimund Gregorius is a teacher of Classic Languages at the Swiss lycée. He is considered as the best teacher by his students and colleagues and is well respected. One day he saves the life of a captivating Portuguese woman. The act triggers a chain of events and brings him to a book written by Amadeu de Prado, a Portuguese doctor. Raimund is completely drawn towards the book and thus starts his quest to know more about the man who wrote it. Raimund, whose life was nothing less than an immaculate timetable, leaves his class in the middle and takes a train to Lisbon, to know about Prado’s life. To know about the man who could weave magic with his words.

It is death that gives the moment its beauty and its horror. Only through death is time a living time. Why does the Lord, the omniscient God, not know that? Why does he threaten us with an endlessness that must mean unbearable desolation?

As Raimund reaches Lisbon and pick up the threads of Prado’s life, he begins to understand the man, his mind and his hardships through the eyes of people who had known him.

He meets Adriana, Prado’s eighty years old sister who had been living with the ghosts of her brother’s existence and kept everything the way he had left it years ago.

He meets Jorge O’Kelly, Prado’s best friend and confidant for years and the only man Prado could bear to be close to. 

He meets Estefania Espinhosa, the woman who had a brain that could carry every minute detail of the plans of the rebellion against the Salazar’s dictatorship; whom Prado fell in love with and had to part with because of the fear of her falling in the hands of the dictator.

He meets João Eca, an active member of the rebellion and the silent spectator who saw Prado both as a successful and an established doctor and then as a crippled man struggling with life; who had his own horror stories written all over his body. 

He meets Maria João, the woman whose kitchen gave Prado the most dangerous ideas to write. Who saw him go through the trauma of his wife Fatima’s death and who again saw him wither away for Estefania.

But when we set out to understand someone on the inside? Is that a trip that ever comes to an end? Is the soul a place of facts? Or are the alleged facts only the deceptive shadows of our stories?

The most beautiful aspect of the book is the way the story constantly switches between the past and the present, which is entwined with the excerpts from Padro’s book. As Raimund completes the jigsaw of Prado’s life through the numerous people he meets during the course of his journey, you can feel the upheavals of his own life and the transitions he goes through. The book would question your philosophies about life and would force you to look at life in a way you would have never seen it before. It would leave you in an upheaval. 

The book was a major hit in Germany that spent 140 weeks on the best-seller list and went on to become one of Europe’s biggest literary blockbusters in the last five years selling over two million copies. 

Highly recommended. Don’t miss it.

Written by – Pascal Mercier.

Rating – 5/5

The Book Thief

“When everything was quiet. I went up to the corridor and the curtain of the living room was open just a crack….I could see outside. I watched, only for a few seconds.”

He had not seen the outside world for twenty-two months. There was no anger or reproach.

“How did it look?”

Max lifted his head, with great sorrow and great astonishment.

“There were stars,” he said. “They burned my eyes.”

The Book Thief is a story told by the Angel of Death, the surreptitious soul collector who is haunted by humans and who was very busy during the Second world war. He encountered the book thief thrice and it was a pleasure which he cherished forever. The Book Thief is a story of many people narrated by the soul collector.

It is the story of Liesel Meminger, who stole the first book when her brother was being buried by the gravediggers. The Gravedigger’s Handbook started her love affair with books in the troubled Nazi Germany. Her first act of thievery in many more to come. Liesel was sent to live with the Hubermanns, her foster parents, who lived on Himmel Street in Molching. Himmel means Heaven. 

It is the story of Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster father. A kind man and a Jew lover who was not afraid to offer his services to a Jew whose shop was vandalised. It was Hans who taught Liesel to read her first stolen book. Every night when Liesel woke up screaming from her nightmares, Hans sat with her and they read the Gravedigger’s Handbook. He whitewashed the wall in the basement so that Liesel may practice her spellings on it.

It is the story of Rosa Hubermann, Liesel’s sharp tongued foster mother, who called her husband and her daughter by names like Saukerl(bastard) and filthy pigs, to display her love. Who beat up Liesel when she did a mistake and loved her equally. Who sat with her husband’s accordion clutched tightly in her arms as moonlight swayed over her and as Liesel watched her from the door of the bedroom when Hans went to fight in the World War.

It is the story of Max Vandenburg, a Jewish refugee, who turns up one fine day on their doorsteps and change their lives more than anyone could have imagined. The Jew whom they hide in the basement of their house and who stayed there for so long that when he had a glimpse of stars, they burned his eyes. The Jew who painted the pages of Mein Kampf in white so that he could write his own story on it and present it to Liesel on her birthday. The Jew who was bound to Liesel with his own nightmares in which he fought the Fuehrer in a boxing ring.

It is the story of Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s neighbour on Himmel street and her best friend. Rudy who was crazy about Jessy Owens and madly in love with Liesel. Who jumped in the river to get her stolen book back, stole apples with her and helped her to steal books from the Mayor’s house and always asked for a kiss in return, which he got eventually at the end when it was too late.

After The Kite Runner, this was one book which again touched a raw nerve. I picked up this book because I liked the name and reading it was like living with all those people I have mentioned above. The book sucks you in and you can feel the pain and smell death. You actually see the Jews being marched on the Himmel Street. Starving and waiting to be killed. You see the Mayor’s wife, who lets Liesel steal from her huge library by leaving the window open. You see the people of Himmel Street bundled together in the basement of a house when the air raids start while Liesel reads one of her stolen book to them to divert their minds from the fear of death. There are so many timeless pages and memorable characters in the book who will always remain with you. The central theme of the book is Death and words. As Liesel learns how to read, she realises that its words which have held people in Hitler’s spell. She begins to understand the spell which words can cast to bring love as well as destruction. 

Written like a dream, this was one book which I had to recommend, although I have read many books after The Kite Runner. A powerful book of our times which should definitely be made into a movie.

Rating – 4.5/5

Author – Markus Zusak

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Book Review

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,

Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.

While I was reading The Kite Runner, I wondered how much pain the author himself had to go through in his life to write this story? Its said that you can’t understand the pain of another human if you have not been through the same situation yourself. Each and every word of The Kite Runner made me realize how much pain and anger must be pent up inside the author. And then I read “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. The Kite Runner was not a book and neither is A Thousand Splendid Suns. They are outlets, vents to tell the world about what happened to the Nation which was once so prosperous and happy. They are outlets for people to know the story of a nation destroyed by its own people.

The story revolves around Mariam and Laila. Mariam is an unwanted child born out of wedlock and lives with her mother in the outskirts of Herat in Afghanistan. Her wealthy father visits her at times. When Mariam is 15 she visits her father’s home against everyone’s wishes. She ends up being married to Rasheed, a widower in Kabul who expects a son from her. When she fails to deliver a baby, she is faced with verbal and physical abuses. Laila, on the other hand, is the daughter of a High school teacher. She had two brothers who are killed in the fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Laila is in love with Tariq, her childhood friend. Things take a bad turn when the civil war comes to Kabul after the victory of the Mujahideen and Tariq leaves Kabul with his parents and Laila is left pregnant and an orphan after her parents are killed in a rocket attack. She lands up in Rasheed’s house and agrees to marry Rasheed for the sake of the child. Mariam is now in Rasheed’s house for more than a decade now and resents Laila but fate has something else in store for the two women.

The most beautiful part of this book is the way the relationship develops between Mariam and Laila. By the time Laila becomes a part of the household, Mariam has endured too much at the hands of Rasheed to bear his second wife. Soon after Laila gives birth to Tariq’s daughter, both the women realise that they are sailing in the same boat. The book is also a story of a nation in transition. It encompasses the political upheavals and what the people went through when the Russians finally left. It tells the story of a beautiful dream which turned into a nightmare. If Hassan was the unforgettable character in The Kite Runner, then Mariam’s doleful life will leave a lump in your throat in this book. And there was one feeling that never left me while I read the book – This could have happened to someone…

Comparisons with Khaled’s earlier book is inevitable and I agree that A Thousand Splendid Suns does not have those kind of twists and turns but it has the same quality which The Kite Runner had. It turns you into a more compassionate, a more understanding and a more humane human. It makes you understand that you are blessed in every sense. And, it makes you understand that there are people out there who deserve a life similar to yours.

Rating – 4.5/5

Author – Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner and the Loot

I have been toying with the idea of writing this post from a long time. Largely because it is about a book about which a lot has been written and said and accepted. It took me almost a year to pick up a copy and buy it. Its hard to describe this syndrome, when you know that a book is good, when you have heard everyone praise it to skies and you still don’t buy it. Its as if your brain is asking you to wait, wait for the right time…

I picked up The Kite Runner at the Crossword store at a mall in Delhi. I started reading it in a bus ride from Delhi to Kurukshetra, where I went to collect my degree. It was a six hour to and fro ride on the Haryana Roadways bus. As soon as I opened the book, I got a stare of disapproval from a “Jat” uncle sitting next to me. 😐

“Chora hoke Navel padhan laaag reya hai ( A boy reading novel!!!!)”. Good old Haryana. 😆

I completely ignored the stare and gave him an intellectual look while adjusting my glasses. As I turned the pages of the book, it completely sucked me in. The simplicity of the book amazed me. The story never feels make-believe, but seems like a true story. This could have happened to someone, I told myself. I grabbed my degree as soon as possible, jumped into a return bus to Delhi and jumped into the novel again. That’s jumping twice. 😐 Next day, I had a flight to Chennai, and I was again lost in the pages of this beautiful book. Lokesh, who was with me in the flight got bored to death, as even the air hostesses were not so patakha. 🙂

The book left a deep impression on me. For days I could not think of anything else. Was Afghanistan actually so beautiful?? How would the sky look when so many kites fly in it?? How would one feel when he knows that he can’t go back and make everything right?? How would one feel when he goes back to his home and tries to find the reminiscence of the past in everything that is destroyed?? Can you really know where a cut kite will land beforehand, as Hassan always did?? The books just throws you in the realms of reality. You just can’t ignore it. Yes, it is a fiction, but its narration encompasses the prosperity, troubles and destruction of a nation. And that is no fiction.

In a way the book is more of a story of Hassan and Sohrab rather than Amir. Hassan’s death shook me more than anything in the book, because while reading the story you start believing that some day Amir and Hassan will meet and everything would be all right. Its the vulnerable, submissive and yet strong character of Hassan which leaves an impression for days. Sohrab’s suicide attempt was another point in the story where I stopped reading and stared at the sunset from my seat in the flight. The ending of the book left me smiling. The last page, at which Amir tells Sohrab – “For you a thousand times over”, is frozen in my mind. I think you can say this line only to someone you really really love.

The book was also a reality check fo me. For a while I was so glad of the kind of world I live in. I thanked God everyday. It also made me realise that time never remains the same. The turmoil which the character of Baba goes through is unimaginable. To work at a gas station after loosing everything you have built up over the years is something which only a strong willed person can do. The book also made me realise that there is no bigger insult than taking someone for granted, specially a person who loves you without any strings attached.

Now before this post gets toooo personal and sentimental I would end it with the news about the “loot”. Before dwelling into that I would like to recommend this book to everyone. Read it, if you still haven’t, you fools!!!

About the Loot :

A few months back I participated in an essay writing competition in my company. The topic was “Should I still be reading books?” and Surprise!!!! I won the second prize. 🙂 You can read the essay here. Anyways, the post is not about the essay, but the aftermath. I won Crossword gift coupons worth 2500 Rs and I was dying to spend it on all the books which I was dying to buy. That’s dying twice. 😐 So I recently got a chance to rummage a Crossword store near my house and bought 8 books. I got quite a few looks that day.

Is-he-crazy-or-what-look

Ummm-he-must-be-rich-look

I-must-not-stand-behind-him-at-the-cash-counter-as-it-will-take-ages-look

God!!!-how-can-someone-waste-2500 bucks-on-books-look (This came from my sister)

WTF-look

Well, I ignored all of them except the second one. 😉

So, here is a look at the LOOT. Ta!!!!Da!!!!

Howwzzzat???

And incidently today is World Book and Copyright day. So, Happy WBCD!!! 🙂

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